Gabrieli: A Venetian Coronation

London Festival of Baroque Music
A Venetian Coronation
Gabrieli, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square, 13 May 2022

The 2022 London Festival of Baroque Music opened with a very welcome throwback to the 1990s and Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli Consort’s large-scale liturgical reconstructions, here represented by a rerun of A Venetian Coronation, a musical re-creation of the 1595 Coronation Mass for the Venetian Doge Marino Grimani. This was first performed in St John’s, Smith Square and has since been recorded twice and performed many times around the world.

We don’t know exactly what music was performed in St Mark’s for the event, but the music chosen for this re-creation has a feel of authenticity and atmosphere. It was centred around Mass settings by Andrea Gabrieli, including a sumptuous four-choir Gloria that may have been intended for the 1585 Mass of the Japanese Princes. The bulk of the instrumental music was from Andrea’s nephew, Giovanni Gabrieli, who also contributed Deus qui beatum Marcum for the Offertory and the powerful concluding motet Omnes Gentes.

The layout of St John’s, Smith Square, with its three galleries, allows for a reasonable approximation of St Mark’s Venice, especially if you were sitting towards the front, with the small groups of gallery musicians to your left and right. St Mark’s served as the Doge’s private chapel as well as the state church of Venice and the music for such ceremonial events was focused on the central seats for the Doge and his entourage rather than the wider audience spaced around the rest of the church. Organs, instruments and singers were positioned on galleries on either side of the Doge’s central space

The ceremony started with Giovanni Gabrieli’s finger-twisting Toccata del second tono, elegantly played by the principal organist, Masumi Yamamoto. Following the chanted Introit, the Doge’s procession was heralded by a fanfare from six trumpets and a military drum, rather than the 24 trumpeters that apparently were probably used for the original occasion. They started from the outdoor cafe on the steps of St John’s before slow marching into the hall.

Organ intonations by the two Gabrieli’s introduced several of the vocal pieces, and the two organs combined for an arrangement of the Sonata La Leona by Cesario Gussago. Instrumental contributions were taken from the publications from 1597 and 1615.

The key singers were the three countertenors, Patrick Dunachie, Mark Chambers and David Clegg, all three with beautifully pure and focussed voices. In the polychoral pieces, each instrumental group had to have at least one singer, and the blend of those with the cornetts or sackbuts was excellent. One particularly impressive example was in the Offertory Deus qui beatum Marcum, with two five-part choirs on opposite galleries, each headed by two countertenors.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Gabrieli’s, as they are now known, and this was a fitting occasion to be reminded of that.